SCRANTON – Some serve their parishes as altar servers and ushers, while others serve their schools and community by participating in service projects and organizing fundraisers. In all cases, however, they have contributed to the mission of our local church by reaching out and touching lives in real and meaningful ways.

This month – after being nominated by their Pastor, Parish Life Coordinator, Principal, Religious Education Director, or Youth Minister – more than 500 young adults received the Bishop’s Youth Award.

After presenting each individual award, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera congratulated this year’s award recipients at the April 7, 2024 Mass.

Two separate Masses were held to distribute the awards earlier this month. Students in the western and southern regions of the Diocese received their awards at the Cathedral of Saint Peter on Sunday, April 7, 2024, while students in the northern and eastern regions were recognized on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

“We’re all very, very proud of those of you who received an award,” the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, said during each Mass. “We are extremely grateful for your example and for the witness of your lives and for the hope that you give us all.”

Since 1996, the Bishop’s Youth Award has recognized young people in eighth and 12th grade for their exemplary practice of faith and for their commitment to serve others. Each of the students receiving the award were called forth this year by parish to receive a special pin as a symbol of the way they have contributed to the mission of the Church.

Paige Moss of Saint Robert Bellarmine Parish in Wilkes-Barre receives her award from Bishop Joseph C. Bambera. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

“It is just a great feeling being around all these other people that you know are dedicated to their faith in some sort of way,” Paige Moss, a 12th grade award recipient from Saint Robert Bellarmine Parish in Wilkes-Barre, said.

Faith is something that is very important to Raegan Czyzycki, a 12th grade award recipient, from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Swoyersville.

“I think it’s important to stay close to my faith because it gives me a sense of support and guidance that I probably couldn’t find anywhere else,” Czyzycki said.

Brandon Makara, who serves Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville as an altar server, was excited to receive his award.

“I wasn’t expecting this honor and it makes me so glad that I was chosen for it,” the 12th grade student said.

Those same sentiments were shared by Lauren Shemansky, who attends Holy Family Academy in Hazleton and is a parishioner of Most Precious Blood Parish.

“I do youth group in my parish. We help make cookies and do things around Halloween for the little kids,” Shemansky said. “I’m also in the Students for Service club. We do gardening and a lot of collections for people who need it.”

While many of the 12th grade award recipients are preparing to head off to college, Peter Stec, who was recently accepted as the newest seminarian for the Diocese of Scranton, will be discerning a path to the priesthood. He also received a Bishop’s Youth Award this year.

Award recipients from Saint Eulalia Parish, including Amato Lynn, center, pray during the April 14th Mass.

“What I’m most excited about is being with all the youth of the Diocese of Scranton who are deeply involved in their faith, specifically their Catholic faith,” he said. “What has really fostered my vocation is Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. If we can stick to that – then we can all be united together and have a future for our Church.”

Father Bert S. Kozen, Pastor, Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Bastress, and Saint Luke Parish, Jersey Shore, served as homilist for the first Mass. Father James J. Paisley, Pastor, Saint Ann Basilica Parish, Scranton, served as homilist for the second celebration.

At both Masses, the homilists acknowledged how important it is for the young adults to continue to share the gifts and blessings God has given them.

“Yours are the hands and heart of Jesus,” Father Paisley said. “Whatever gifts you have, today is a reminder to take them out of storage and share them enthusiastically … Don’t even think about tucking away your gifts for another day because we need them.”

“Receiving this award is a testimony to your willingness to live your faith – not only in word but more importantly and more powerfully – but in the manner in which your life is being lived,” Father Kozen said. “Jesus is in each and every one of us and if we recognize the Risen Christ in those means, then we can’t help but proclaim Him in that Easter faith each and every day of our lives.”

As she received her award, Lillie Kochis, a senior at Holy Cross High School and parishioner of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Dunmore, put her Bishop’s Youth Award into perspective.

“As young people, we have the opportunity to be the change that we want to see,” she said. “This all comes from how you bring Jesus Christ’s light into the world.”

After taking a mission trip to the Diocese of Gaylord to participate in Habitat for Humanity activities last year, Kochis now spends an hour each week volunteering at Saint Joseph’s Center.

“It’s just my little way of giving back. I know that an hour of my time, spending time with the residents and doing activities there may not seem like a whole lot, but to the friends and the people I’ve met, it means the world to me,” she said.